Santa Monica resident and kidney transplant recipient Tom Elias, took silver in the 50-yard breaststroke and bronze in the long jump at the bi-annual Transplant Games of America, held July 28-31, in Grand Rapids, MI. This was Tom's eighth Transplant Games. He first participated in the 1998 Games, just nine months after his transplant.
On Sept. 17, 1997, Tom had a kidney transplant at age 53. He had been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in 1989 and had tried every kind of diet in hope of controlling the symptoms to avoid further kidney deterioration and possible dialysis and/or transplant. But, several years later, he went into kidney failure and was put on the kidney transplant list while on dialysis. He updated everyone in his circle about his condition (but never asked for a kidney) and 14 relatives and friends came forward and offered to be a living donor for him, including his rabbi, the rabbi’s wife and the cantor from his synagogue. “This was the most touching thing in my life -- that 14 people cared enough about me to give up a kidney,” says Elias.
Tom’s wife and son were not a blood type match, and neither was his first cousin. But, his first cousin’s daughter was and she donated her kidney. She has since had two children – “a testament to the process,” comments Elias.
“You never stop being grateful. My transplant experience has been fabulous. Most people who know me have no idea.”
A Chicago native, Elias moved to Santa Monica in 1971. His syndicated public affairs column, “California Focus,” appears twice weekly in 93 newspapers throughout California, including the Santa Monica Mirror. He has won numerous awards from organizations including the National Headliners Club, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the Greater Los Angeles Press Club, and the California Taxpayers Association, and has been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize in distinguished commentary. He has no plans to retire. “It’s the kidney that lets me do everything and be so active. I feel lucky on many scores. It helps you put life in perspective in a whole bunch of ways.”
About the Transplant Games, Tom observes that part of its appeal is being with people who have been through a similar experience. “Your own people understand things about you that the rest of the world cannot and never will – that’s the most important aspect of the Games for me.
“I found my teammates on Team Southern California to be the most determined, yet pleasant and exciting, group of people I have ever been around,” says Elias. “It was an inspiration to learn what some of my teammates have come through and to see how optimistic and forward-looking they all are.”
Team SoCal, far from the largest contingent, placed third in the medal count. “Although we had 16 transplant athletes at these Games, we will be actively recruiting new teammates of all ages for the next Games, to be held in two years,” adds Elias.
The Games serve to promote the health and fitness of its participants while showcasing the success of transplantation, highlighting the enormous need for more organ and tissue donors, and honoring the thousands of selfless acts of love from donors and their families around the world.
Competition at the Transplant Games of America is open to anyone who has undergone a life-saving organ transplant (heart, lung, kidney, intestine, pancreas and/or bone marrow) surgery, living donors and donor families. More than just an athletic event, the Transplant Games of America highlights the critical importance of organ and tissue donation, while celebrating the lives of organ donors, donor families and recipients.